TAMPA — How damaging were USF's 11 penalties for 112 yards in its 31-27 loss Saturday to Ball State?
Consider the Bulls' 99-yard touchdown drive to take the lead with four minutes remaining. Impressive as that sounds, the Bulls piled up 134 yards of offense on the drive, overcoming 35 yards in flags — two holding penalties and a personal foul — after crossing midfield.
"Penalties will kill a team. It's that simple. If you have penalties, you're hurting yourself, you're giving the other team yardage, momentum, all of that," said Bulls RB Demetris Murray, who was flagged 15 yards for a leg whip on that drive and admitted he committed the foul. "If we want to be what we want to be, we can't have penalties. We can't have stupid third-down penalties, we can't have penalties on first down. We just can't have them. … We're hurting ourselves. That's why we're not winning ball games."
In the end, USF couldn't overcome its penalties — after Ball State drove 75 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, the Bulls' final flag — a personal foul on senior TE Jeff Hawkins on the kickoff — backed them up to their 13-yard line.
Defensively, penalties were part of the problem, as USF gave Ball State two first downs, contributing to the team's continued struggles to get off the field on third down.
"We've got to get better on third downs. Obviously, penalties are a part of it," defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said. "We can't give them free first downs again, and we did that. We've got to perform better."
USF entered the game second in the Big East in penalties, averaging eight for 68 yards, but the team reset its season high for penalty yardage and came within two of the high for flags.
"It's unfortunate that penalties seemed to rear their ugly heads again," coach Skip Holtz said. "We're not very disciplined, especially some key plays we had today. … In a game where one or two plays make the difference, you have 11 penalties for 100 yards … it makes it very difficult to win."
IMPROVED: USF tweaked its offensive line, moving senior LG Mark Popek to left tackle, where he started all of last season, and inserting senior Damien Edwards at left guard. The line played well, clearing the way for a balanced offense that had 13 first downs rushing and passing while allowing no sacks.
DEPLETED: USF's secondary had two starters make their first college start in CB Joshua Brown and S Fidel Montgomery, with regular starters Kayvon Webster (knee) and JaQuez Jenkins (back) playing only a handful of plays. S Mark Joyce was also limited but had seven tackles, the most of any defensive back.
THIS AND THAT: Ball State's announced crowd at Scheumann Stadium was just 16,397, marking the first time the Bulls have played to fewer than 20,000 since a 2008 trip to Florida International. … Freshman CB Chris Bivins played for the first time, becoming the sixth true freshman to play this season. He had one tackle. … DT Luke Sager had a career-best eight tackles, while LB Michael Lanaris led the team with 10 total tackles. … USF hadn't lost a nonconference game to a non-BCS opponent in its previous 44 chances, going back to a 2001 loss at Utah.